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HK people must have choice - Clegg

Nick Clegg has expressed sympathy with "brave" pro-democracy demonstrators who have been facing down police in Hong Kong.

The Deputy Prime Minister said the population should be given a "real choice" in elections.

The Foreign Office has said it is carefully monitoring the situation in Hong Kong after police deployed tear gas to try to disperse protesters outside government headquarters.

Officers hurled canisters into the huge crowd last night after spending hours holding the demonstrators at bay.

They had been trying to reach a mass sit-in being held to demand Beijing grant genuine democratic reforms to the former British colony.

A Foreign Office spokesman said the British Government was "concerned"about the events there and highlighted people's right to protest.

"It is Britain's long-standing position, as a co-signatory of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, that Hong Kong's prosperity and security are underpinned by its fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to demonstrate."

Posting on Twitter, Mr Clegg added: "I sympathise a great deal with the brave pro-democracy demonstrators taking to the streets of Hong Kong.

"The UK remains committed to the Joint Declaration and the principle of 'One Country, Two Systems'.

"Universal suffrage must mean real choice for the people of Hong Kong and a proper stake in the 2017 election. When China took control of Hong Kong in 1997, it agreed to a policy of 'one country, two systems' that allowed the former colony a high degree of control over its own affairs and kept in place liberties unseen on the mainland. It also promised the city's leader would eventually be chosen through "universal suffrage".

Hong Kong's residents have long felt their island stood apart from mainland China thanks to those civil liberties and separate legal and financial systems.

Beijing's insistence on using a committee to screen election candidates on the basis of their patriotism to China has stoked fears among pro-democracy groups that Hong Kong will never receive genuine democracy.

University students began their class boycotts over a week ago and say they will continue them until officials meet their demands for reforming the local legislature and withdrawing the proposal to screen candidates.

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